Knoxville therapy dog helps during recovery process

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- It's amazing what a wet nose, big ears, and a wagging tail can do when you're not feeling your best. A rescue turned therapy dog is making a difference in the lives of many people across East Tennessee.

Inside the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, hundreds of patients learn how to get back on their feet and return to a normal lifestyle. Jack Alman is one of them. After a cancerous tumor was found on his tongue, he's going through therapy to relearn basic skills.

“Four chemos and 39 radiation treatments and I'm here learning how to speak again, stand, walk,” says Alman.

It goes beyond traditional rehab. Four and a half year old Samantha is a rescue turned therapy dog. The patients all know her as "Sam." The German Shepherd is part of University of Tennessee's Human and Animal Bond in Tennessee program.

“The dogs help with the healing process simply because they have an abundance of love to give,” says Recreational Therapist Theresa Thomas.

Bernie Kirk, Sam's owner says, "I think she's a dog that loves to serve and loves to please."

Kirk is no stranger to the program. She's been involved with HABIT for more than a decade.

“It's an amazing feeling when you see the dog interact with the individuals who are trying to...they're in therapy and they actually show some signs that there's progress in what they're doing,” says Kirk.

Alman says, “To have a dog relate to you, in my case, there's nothing like it. It's like having a brother or a sister that's caring for you."

It's companionship that stroke patient, Marilyn Jackson appreciates.

Jackson says, “He understands what you're saying if you're saying happy things to her."

Twice a month, Sam visits with a dozen patients or more, even remembering to stop by the admin office for treats. It's a small reward, for all the smiles she brings.

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